When I wrote the outline of a program to teach primary school children about religion, I sought to explain what is meant by religion; its origins; its expression; and its value. I was then (in the 1970s) the foundation chairman of my children’s primary school; and the local priests had decided not conduct classes for those children whose parents wanted teaching at school of their respective Christian faiths.
Collectively, the priests advised the parents to bring the children to church. The School Board and the priests then agreed to my proposal to educate our children about a universally-shared attitude of mankind; to reach to the numinous. This is “the combined feeling of attraction and awe characteristic of man’s sense of communion with God and religion” (Oxford Dictionary). By a very substantial majority, our parents supported the proposal.
My outline was endorsed by a couple of appropriately qualified academics and churchmen; then by the Board and priests; and (as I was told) by our Schools Authority. It was then adopted by the teachers.
Yet, nothing came of it, in spite of Australian society breaking out of some of the bonds of yesteryear. While freedom increasingly flourished, teachers and education bureaucrats did not support change. Indeed, a couple of decades later, the State of New Wales (now my State) allowed lay Christians to teach their religion during school hours. Children who were not interested were reportedly denied normal classes during these lessons, at least for a few years. Education, like the parliaments, was too secular for some.
This reactionary effort was only another facet of an attempt to impose conservative Christian values on the nation, especially through immigration selection (initially, Roman Catholic Europeans were preferred). This occurred even as the Anglo-Australian was increasingly withdrawing from church and priestly control. For instance, it was once said that leading feminists were mostly products of parochial (church) schools.
Historically, wives tended to be submissive, if not subservient, to the breadwinner of the household. When the contraceptive pill gave women control over their bodies, they moved from chattel to partner. Church control over Sundays was also loosened, and young couples of a certain sect decided to join the mainstream. So said my colleagues. That is, children were produced only after a home had been acquired; and there was no requirement to produce at least 4 children.
Soon marital separation and divorce increased, aided by legislation. Many fathers of young children became denied to their children and the family home. Societal deterioration seems to be on the rise. The churches seem to have lost favour.
Has the withdrawal from institutional religion been offset by a shift to belief in the numinous through freedom-linked philosophies? For, it is clear that there is an innate reaching out by sensitive souls to God.